Shatter My Heart

By Thelma Giomi

0
16 min.
37

Kintsugi
Mended in the broken places
With golden glue,
So you embrace
The pain and missing faces
And make a work of art
Out of your shattered heart.

Ian hit Schenley Park at a full-out run. He kept running until he reached a deeply wooded area. The coolness shimmered over his damp skin. He drew in several breaths of the musky air hoping to cleanse his lungs of the antiseptic smells of the operating room, wishing it could wash away the images in his mind as well.

Why did he feel so desperately unhappy? The surgery was a success. He had made the incisions clean and symmetrical.

If only she had been under when he walked into pre-op. If only he hadn’t seen that beautiful face, those lake-blue eyes, pleading, resigned. He did the surgery to save her life. He did it because it was the only way. Still her breasts were gone. That lovely face, those lake-blue eyes had to go forward, without breasts, with six months of chemotherapy ahead.

Ian sank to the damp lawn. He pulled up handfuls of grass and bruised them in his clenched fists. He had to get over this. He had to stop seeing his patients so clearly. He would never be able to survive the anguish if he did not.

“Dr. Blackburn, you’ll have to leave. No one sleeps through my seminar. Obviously, you need sleep, but do it on your own time.” Dr. Wimberley spoke calmly to the disoriented chief resident.

Ian opened his eyes to bright morning light pouring into the room. In the second it took for him to realize where he was, Ian knew that the woman with her hand on his shoulder was the sensual presence in his dream. In the dream, he wanted to turn to the woman and embrace her, but now that fragile moment was lost.

“Doctor, I asked you to leave,” Lauren repeated. “We will discuss this incident later.” She stood beside him waiting for him to follow her request.

“Oh! What?” Ian looked around the room at his eight colleagues.

He had been exhausted when he entered the room. He slipped into a seat at the conference table, pausing only to nod to Ken Davis, his closest friend and ally. He had fallen asleep in seconds.

Still groggy with sleep Ian focused on the instructor beside him.

Slender. Moderate height. Auburn hair a few shades darker than his.

Eyes as dark blue as his were light. As he looked at the woman beside him, Ian felt a longing left over from the dream. He realized that she took in everything about him: his outside dishevelment and inside conflict, all the hours he had worked, his impatience with her and the seminar. He could see her eyes held an easy laugh in check. It was as irritating as it was embarrassing. The confidence in her eyes never wavered from his.

He felt the pressure of her hand on his shoulder increase slightly.

The impact of where he was, who she was and how this incident would affect the rest of his psychiatry rotation hit like a rockslide.

Already he regretted the incident that drew attention to him. He had wanted to slip through this rotation unobtrusively. Now that was
impossible.

“Sorry.” Ian managed not to look at her as he grabbed his jacket and left.

“Dr. Wimberley, excuse me, I’ve got to see you. I want to explain.”

“I have a patient now. Catch me sometime when I’m free or make an appointment.”

“Christ, I didn’t think I’d committed a crime. A few minutes can straighten this whole thing out.”

“My patient is waiting. Stop by another time,” she said, leaving only traces of a subtle perfume as she left him standing in the doorway.

“Shit,” Ian murmured to himself and turned away just as Lauren entered with a small child pulling her by the hand and chattering excitedly.

Reviewing the scene in his mind made the anger rise to his throat. He resented being put off for a patient, especially one who was only four years old. He walked swiftly toward the residents’ quarters, changed and went out for a ten-mile run. It wasn’t enough.

Two hours later he was back at the hospital looking for Patty.

She walked toward him, carrying a tray of meds and looking distracted.

Ian noticed that her green scrubs and short smooth hairstyle complemented her slightly pump petite figure.

“Dinner,” he stated, resting a hand on her arm.

“Oh, I don’t know, I’ve had a horrible day.”
“Dinner,” he said again in his most convincing little-boy-lost
manner.

“OK, fifteen minutes if all goes well.”

After dinner, after a walk in the park near Patty’s apartment, after a night with Patty and the best mattress in the city, Ian finally forgot about the seminar.

It was days later that he remembered it, only minutes before the seminar was to begin.

“Damn, I forgot I have a class,” he said over a blood-soaked dressing he was in the process of changing on an eight-year-old boy
in the emergency room.

“Doctor, I can take over,” suggested the nurse beside him with the proper mix of humility and competence.

“Yeah, do that. I’ll check back in a couple of hours.”

Inside the seminar room, Dr. Lauren Wimberley was taping children’s drawings to the wall. Ken was asking if she had read Carlos Castaneda and didn’t she think there were parallels to her lecture on cognitive psychology.

As Ian watched the interchange between the two, he realized how deeply he resented being here.

“What the hell’s wrong with you?” he whispered reproachfully to Ken. “How can you sell out to this pseudo-science? All those pitiful people paying for friendship. Christ, psychologists are so busy feeling what their patients feel. They get tangled up in the whole process.”

“Shut up, my friend. You’re already ass deep in it. Talk like that could make a shrink wonder if you had something to hide.” Ian felt a chill run through him at Ken’s words. “Don’t try to practice any of your voodoo on me, Ken. I didn’t ask you. All right?” Ken smiled broadly into Ian’s scowl.

As Lauren began to speak about the developmental and emotional aspects of the children’s drawings, Ian realized that despite his irritation he couldn’t keep his eyes off her. He guessed she was younger than he was. She could have finished graduate school and an internship while he had another year ahead of him. What made her so alluring? She was totally absorbed in what she was teaching. And she taught like a storyteller, insinuating statistics like exclamation points.

Ian left the seminar feeling a confused elation. He just couldn’t keep the anger and resentment at the level he had before the class.

Puzzled by the mix of feelings vying inside him, he put off trying to talk with Dr. Wimberley until later that afternoon.

As he walked into the hospital cafeteria a sense of magnetism drew his gaze to where she sat alone, her eyes fixed on some point beyond the large, grimy windows. He hesitated before approaching her. Twice before he had been rebuffed. She seemed as tough as his mentors in medicine.

He leaned against the cafeteria wall, watching her for a few more minutes, trying to decide how to approach her. He had the sinking feeling that Ken and Lauren would label his childhood as dysfunctional if they knew the truth. If she knew the truth, Lauren would know he was an impostor.

* * *
Lauren took a sip of hot tea and watched the rain cleansing city soot off the windows. With the force of the storm the lights dimmed and came back casting a softer glow over the huge hospital cafeteria.

It made it feel intimate and safe. Since she woke Ian in her class Lauren had been trying to remember where she had seen him before.

She couldn’t shake the sense of isolation in his eyes as he had irritably slammed the door.

Ken had broken the awkward silence after Ian had left with a question that put everyone back on track. Though physically similar, Ken seemed to be a gentler version of Ian.

Ken was a rare one—he felt the tensions of the incident and acted constructively on his feelings. Medical school must have been tremendously difficult for someone so open, but was it just as difficult for Ian?
Lauren looked down at the campus newspaper. The astronomy department lecture series at the Allegheny Observatory was continuing.

She had attended the lecture on the lunar eclipse hoping that a scientific approach to the image in her recurring nightmare would demystify it and release her from its haunting power.

“A total lunar eclipse occurs when the earth is positioned directly between the moon and sun casting a shadow over the moon.” The astronomer had gone on to explain cheerfully, “Only a few nights a year are suitable for viewing because of the weather. Tonight, we are fortunate.”
The chill in the unheated dome that sheltered the telescope had pierced through Lauren’s parka. It felt like the cold fear of her nightmare.

She was filled with apprehension as she waited for the shadow to move across the red-yellow orb of the moon and finally to open to the light. When it did, the warmth of relief flowed through her muscles.

Observing the eclipse had intensified her dream experience rather than defused it. She had slept little that night feeling possessed by a psychic energy she could not explain. When she did sleep it, was that half-wakeful sleep where dreams and memories collide.

Once more the lights flickered and Lauren looked up to see Ian standing across the cafeteria from her. A shiver swept over her.

Something about Ian’s eyes held the same feeling as the eclipse dream.

Light and shadow and the inevitable.

She remembered Ian now. He was the man who had been beside her at the observatory. She had felt stunned by the intensity of his luminous blue eyes when he had turned to give her a chance at the telescope. An unfamiliar sadness had moved through her. Something rigid, unyielding, kept those shining eyes from participating in any emotion.

Ian paid for his coffee and approached Lauren’s table. A feeling near embarrassment tingled over her skin as she remembered how emotional she had felt watching the eclipse. Had the resident noticed her fear? She thought not. He did not seem the type to allow subtleties into his awareness.

He set his cup down and scraped the chair back before she smiled at him defying her apprehension with forced confidence.

“May I talk to you now?” Ian asked with just a hint of antagonism.

“Yes, of course,” Lauren answered, recovering her professional demeanor in response to his barely contained anger.

“Dr. Wimberley, I’m Ian Blackburn. I want to apologize for last week and explain.”
“Yes, I know who you are. Apology accepted, but I think I know the explanation. How many hours had you been working?”
“Only twenty or so. I don’t know. I don’t keep track. I guess I was just—”
“Whatever, it’s too many to do a competent job,” Lauren interrupted.

“God, I hate the irresponsibility of the medical profession.”

Lauren was aware of the difference in Ian. Rested, his eyes were clear and he exuded an intensity that was seductive. “Anyway, the thing is, I don’t tolerate disrespect for myself or my students. If you can’t attend a seminar in a conscious state, ready to participate, I just don’t want you there. We all know attendance won’t influence your residency much, unless, of course, you were ready to learn something.” Finishing the mini-speech she caught his eyes in an honest assessment of his response.

“You’re kind of hard on us, aren’t you?”

She smiled thoughtfully. “Doctor, can’t you see the irony in your question? I’m not hard on you. I’m the voice of reason in this medical wilderness. Sleep deprivation leads to all kinds of errors in judgment and decreases motor skills. It is not a harmless initiation rite. You are a threat to every patient you see when you are sleep deprived.”

“Psychologists have no idea about the rigors of medical training or the necessity for them.”

“You’re right, I don’t understand why abusing your own body teaches you anything about healing. The training in psychology is intense,” she paused to look directly at him, “but rational”. As she rose to leave, she touched his shoulder lightly in a gesture of comfort.

To Lauren, touch was a healing resource she used with conscious intent at times but, more often she found it a spontaneous affirmation of her caring. After the sudden loss of her parents in a car crash when she was twelve, Lauren had missed the affection they had lavished on her. Although her older brother, Peter, took good care of her, she still longed for the evenings when she sat on her father’s lap as he read the paper and the quiet Sunday afternoons when shoulder- to-shoulder she and her mother worked on needlepoint canvases.

In graduate school Lauren observed that in dysfunctional families affection was missing and touch was perverted. With each abused child she treated, she began to reeducate the child about good touch and bad touch. Teaching them to trust again and to be open to comfort.

Ian was a bundle of conflicted emotions. He really was too upset about the incident in her class. She wondered why this successful resident was so very unhappy.

Ian sat at the table a long time. The last thing he had wanted in this class was to draw attention to himself. He had hoped to remain a non-entity, slipping through the class unnoticed. Now he had to try to repair the initial damage his falling asleep had done. He hoped his apology had helped, but he couldn’t read her.

He saw the whiteness of his knuckles grasping the mug of coffee before he felt the tension. That wasn’t like him and it made him uneasy. Usually, he registered every nuance of pressure in his hands.

He had devoted himself to enhancing every aspect of his innate gift for surgery.

An iridescent film covered the cold coffee in his cup. He pushed the cup aside, impatient to return to his work. As he walked up the stairs to the fifth floor, he left his tension and irritability behind.

What he could not relinquish was the sight of Lauren sitting alone at the table, her eyes wide and dark, open to some intimate image in her mind.

Weeks later, unable to shake his fascination with the seminar’s instructor, he tapped on Lauren’s office door, more anxious about asking a woman out than he ever remembered.

The door was partly open. The morning sun picked up the auburn in the gentle waves of her shoulder-length hair. When she saw him she stopped dictating and switched off the recorder. To Ian the movement seemed almost sensual.

“Yes, Ian?” She assumed that this would be like other times when he had come by to ask about extra readings or to observe her work.

“Ah, there’s a party at the Dr. Golden’s for all the residents. I wondered if you’d like to go with me?” Arms outstretched, he clung to the frame of the door in a nonchalant manner, except for the whiteness of his knuckles.

“Oh, that’s nice of you, but I don’t date residents.” Ian saw her catch her breath as she realized how harsh her words sounded. He wondered if she really wasn’t attracted to him or if she was playing
some kind of game.

“Well, it wouldn’t exactly have to be a date.”

“Oh, but it would, really, wouldn’t it?”

“You’re really rigid about this ethics stuff, aren’t you? It goes on all over the med school.”

“You should know by now I don’t always do what everyone else at the med school does.”

“I think you’re giving me mixed messages,” Ian said, as a challenge.

“Really, I thought they came from you,” Lauren said, volleying his challenge back to him.

Ian felt his inside bravado crumble. What did she mean? How could she know how ambivalent he was about this rotation? She was a paradox, creating emotional chaos for him. Contradictions filled her office: toys and children’s drawings, degrees and technical books.

Even her absolute femininity clashed with her self-assured attitude.

A fleeting image of Lauren standing beside him that first day in her seminar filled him for a moment with the intoxicating warmth of his dream. He could feel the pressure of her hand on his shoulder. A smile touched his eyes with a realization. It wasn’t that her femininity and competence didn’t fit together. It was that they did. That was what intrigued and enticed him.

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About Thelma Giomi